Fabricated border crisis puts Belarus back in the spotlight

By on November 15, 2021 0

Outrage among European Union officials who say Belarus is deliberately trying to inundate Middle Eastern migrants in Poland and Lithuania reached new highs on Monday, with EU announcing it would sanction airlines who have made special agreements to transport migrants to Belarus in recent months.

The announcement comes after European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of organizing the influx of migrants as part of a “hybrid attack” against the EU. Analysts say the aim of the Lukashenko government is to foment political divisions in the EU over immigration and to destabilize Poland and Lithuania – two pro-democracy EU member states – in order to ease the pressure on its own diet.

The clash once again placed landlocked Belarus at the heart of an international crisis, with the United States and Russia drawn into and on opposite sides.

Belarusian officials dismissed the EU’s claims on Monday. “We have nothing to coordinate, the refugees themselves are saying where they are going and why,” a spokesman for the Belarusian foreign ministry said, according to the Russian news agency TASS. “We are a transit country in this case.”

The Biden administration has linked the developments to the Kremlin, claiming that Belarus is in fact being used by the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin to signal its discontent with the United States and its Western allies, and to mask the constitution of border troops from Moscow and the campaign of military intimidation targeting Ukraine.

“The actions of the Lukashenko regime threaten security, sow division and aim to distract from Russian activities on the border with Ukraine,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Sunday. .

Up to 4,000 migrants are currently in makeshift camps in freezing weather along the Belarusian side of the border with Poland, according to the Associated Press. Recent attempts to cross the border – and into the EU – have been forcibly repelled from Warsaw.

Poland recently reinforced the border with 15,000 troops, in addition to border guards and police. Lithuanian authorities say they too are seeing an increasing number of attempts by migrants to enter Lithuania from Belarus, but the situation at the border is under control.

The influx of migrants has been escalating for months. A New York Times article published over the weekend cited Iraqi travel agents as saying Belarus relaxed visa rules in August, making flights from Iraq an easier trip to Europe. than traveling by land to Turkey and attempting a dangerous sea crossing to Greece. There were even packages to travel to Belarus and get accommodation for a few days, presumably in preparation for an offer to enter an EU country.

It is believed that many migrants stranded at the Polish border are trying to move west, towards Germany. Polish authorities said Monday that Belarusian officials drove a large group to a border crossing with Poland and led them to believe they would be transported by bus to Germany. Polish police say they are broadcasting messages across the border telling migrants “they have been deceived”.

‘Opportunistic’

Germany is the sought-after destination not only because of its prosperity, but also because it gained a reputation for granting asylum to Arab and Muslim refugees from the Syrian civil war from 2014 to 2016, when more than a million refugees entered Western Europe and Berlin agreed to take most of it.

The previous wave sparked sharp political divisions in Germany and several other Western European countries – a reality the Putin government has sought to exploit as part of its ongoing attempts to sow discord among member countries of the NATO.

“This has spurred the rise of anti-immigrant and extremist parties,” said Donald Jensen, who heads the Russia and Strategic Stability Project at the US Institute of Peace.

Jensen told the Washington Times on Monday that the Kremlin is “opportunistic” and keen to exploit the current crisis to Russia’s advantage in the region. He stressed, however, that the dynamics unfolding in Belarus are complex and that it is not clear whether Moscow, the Lukashenko government or a combination of the two are responsible for orchestrating the current border crisis.

The region has become a powder keg in recent years, with Russia backing pro-Moscow separatists fighting the Ukrainian government and moving closer to the Lukashenko regime in Belarus, where Lukashenko was nearly overthrown by opposition protests the year last and clashed with neighbors for human rights violations.

Few people dispute that Mr Lukashenko has increasingly aligned himself with the more powerful Mr Putin over the past year. “But it’s not clear if the dog is wagging its tail or if the tail is wagging the dog with this wave of migrants,” Mr Jensen said.

“It may well have been concocted by the Kremlin using Lukashenko to pressure the European Union,” he said. “But you also have Lukashenko trying to put Putin in a position where he has some leeway to remain as the Belarusian leader. We have seen Belarus drift into Kremlin dependency, and I think Lukashenko is trying to resist that. So what he has done here is create this crisis, and now the Kremlin has to support him or not. “

Either way, the Russian-Belarusian alliance is being tested against a backdrop of growing regional tensions.

Focus on Ukraine

Many locals say developments involving migrants, as well as the deepening energy crisis in Western Europe, can be traced back to Moscow, which denies exploiting its dominance in the natural gas and oil markets as a political tool. to exert an influence on the Region.

Ukraine in particular has expressed the need for clear signs of support from Washington and the EU to counter what it says is a multi-faceted pressure campaign orchestrated by Moscow.

“We all have to understand that what is currently going on in Europe is a very complicated game with many elements: energy crisis, propaganda efforts, disinformation, cyber attacks, military reinforcements, Russia’s attempt to digest Belarus. [and] elements of [a] migration crisis, ”Kuleba said on Wednesday.

“We must remain vigilant,” said the Ukrainian foreign minister. “We have to be resilient. “

The Biden administration’s approach has focused heavily on Ukraine, long a point of friction between the West and post-Soviet Russia and whose battles against corruption have become intertwined with US domestic politics in recent years. years.

Administration officials said last week they feared Russian forces were about to enter Ukraine to “rehash” the chaos that led to Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, warning the Kremlin that the United States and its allies are determined to help Ukraine defend itself.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels on Monday that the military alliance was suspicious of Russia’s actions against Ukraine, but appeared to be stifling speculation in Washington that a military invasion of the Kremlin could be in sight.
“I think it is also important that we do not increase the tensions now, but we have to be clear-headed, we have to be realistic about the challenges we face,” he said after meeting with Mr. Kuleba.

The 27-country EU has already imposed four rounds of sanctions on Belarusian authorities and senior officials following the widely contested elections in August last year that returned Lukashenko to power and security measures against the peaceful protesters that followed. The former Soviet farm manager has now been in power in Minsk since July 1994, shortly after the country’s separation from the collapse of the Soviet Union.

The EU is preparing a fifth round of sanctions, and on Monday the bloc’s foreign ministers extended the scope of the measures to add airlines, travel agents and others accused of helping bring in migrants in Minsk.

“Today’s decision reflects the determination of the European Union to oppose the instrumentalization of migrants for political ends. We reject this inhuman and illegal practice, ”EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement.

The EU headquarters said the bloc will now be able to target individuals and entities organizing or contributing to the activities of the Lukashenko regime which facilitate the illegal crossing of EU borders. A list of those who will be affected by the assets freeze and travel bans is expected to be finalized in the coming days.

In Washington, Mr. Price of the State Department said Washington “is also preparing follow-up sanctions in close coordination with the EU and other partners and allies who will continue to hold the Lukashenko regime accountable for its ongoing attacks. against democracy, human rights, on international standards.

The Lukashenko government hit back at the EU after Monday’s announcement. “We will have to react very harshly,” said the spokesman for the Belarusian Foreign Ministry, according to TASS.

“We defend our independence and will be ready to take all measures, even the harshest,” said the spokesperson. “What kind [of measures], this will be decided by the government which has action plans for any development of the situation.

This article is based in part on press service reports.